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4 Easy Ways To Boost Immunity This Flu Season

Now that we’re officially at the beginning of cold and flu season, it’s time to pay special attention to nourishing our bodies and providing support to our immune systems. And delivering this support may be even more important this year.

We can thank COVID for that, but maybe not for the reason you may think.

Thanks to the lockdowns of the last couple of years, our immune systems weren’t exposed to seasonal viruses—like influenza and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV)—like they normally are. While not being exposed during flu season may seem like a positive thing, there is a downside. The vacation our immune systems had the last couple of years has actually made them less prepared to fight off these viruses. This could be why we’re seeing the highest hospitalizations for the flu in over a decade. This so-called “immunity gap” could also be the reason so many young kids are getting hit hard this year with RSV.

So, during flu season this year especially, we should be proactive and make a point to supply the necessary support to keep our immune systems strong and healthy. Thankfully, there are some easy, simple strategies that can help you do just that. And the best part is, these don’t cost any extra money—and three out of the four don’t cost anything at all.

Tips To Support Your Immune System For Flu Season

Nourish your body.

This time of year is the perfect storm for a weakened immune system. There are holidays filled with overeating and sweets (starting with Halloween and continuing into the new year), high levels of stress, lower levels of vitamin D, fewer hours of sleep, less movement, and we’re packed inside with everyone else more than any other time of the year. No wonder it’s the “season” of illness.

Flu season, and the winter months in general, are the time to double down on consuming nutrient-dense whole foods. Make a point to nourish your body with the macronutrients and micronutrients found in high-quality protein, healthy fats, and vegetables in every color of the rainbow. For those with mast cell disorders, including nutrient-dense foods in your diet can be especially important. The flu virus can activate mast cells, resulting in an excessive inflammatory and immune response. So be sure to ratchet up your fiber and include plenty of foods rich in essential fatty acids, polyphenols, and flavonoids.

Incorporate electrolyte-rich beverages to help maintain proper hydration. Sodium, potassium, and chloride are the significant electrolytes along with magnesium, calcium, phosphate, and bicarbonates. Choose beverages filled with these naturally occurring electrolytes, like coconut water and bone broth.

You can also make your own electrolyte drink by adding a pinch of unrefined mineral salt and a squeeze of organic lemon (or any citrus) to a glass of water. Himalayan sea salt carries 84 trace minerals that act as sponges that help your cells absorb the water and the squeeze of lemon is a pop of fresh flavor with a bit of immune-boosting vitamin C!

Spend time in nature.

Nature as a therapeutic resource has ancient foundations, traced back to Hippocrates, ancient Roman texts, and monasteries in the 1200s. In the late 19th century, there was a condition that caused sufferers to be easily overwhelmed by the ordinary stresses of life. This condition was called neurasthenia. The treatment included getting out in nature, breathing fresh air, eating more fresh veggies, taking vacations, and exercising—basically disconnecting from the stresses of modern life. No longer included as a diagnosis in the WHO’s ICD-11, chronic fatigue syndrome would be today’s equivalent.

While neurasthenia may not be an official diagnosis anymore, the treatment plan continues to be an effective solution to help reduce stress, balance the nervous system, and strengthen the immune system. Make time to regularly get out into some green space to listen to birds, rushing water, or rustling trees, or take a hike, go skiing, or do work in your yard. The powerful effect being in nature has on our overall health doesn’t get enough appreciation.

Research has shown that regular exposure to nature can help improve cognitive function, brain activity, blood pressure, mental health, and sleep. It may also give your immune system a boost by decreasing inflammation and increasing the number and activity of natural killer cells.

This flu season, make it a priority to spend ample time outside to support, nourish, and heal your body and mind.

Sleep more.

Times of high stress require deep restorative sleep to provide our bodies with the opportunity to repair and rebuild. You can support your physical and mental health during flu season by obtaining a minimum of 7.5 to 8 hours of sleep per night. Sleep heals the body, clears the mind, and restores the soul.

There’s a lot of activity going on in your body while you’re sleeping. Our brain is detoxifying—improving our ability to learn, reducing inflammation, and increasing communication between neurons. Growth hormone production ramps up to grow new tissue and repair existing tissue, including the mucosal lining of the digestive system. Our immune cells increase in number and activity. The diversity of our microbiome improves and skews to a more favorable balance. Keeping our circadian clock on time is important for the proper functioning of all systems of our body, including our mast cells. When our sleep is disrupted, these cells can get disrupted—which could ultimately impair the response of our adaptive immune system.

Unfortunately, as many as two-thirds of adults aren’t getting enough sleep.

Enough quality sleep should be a priority year-round, but it becomes increasingly important during the winter months and flu season. Strategies to improve your sleep include getting outside during the day, avoiding blue light at night, keeping your bedroom cool and dark, and supplementing when appropriate.

Move (not too much, not too little).

When it comes to movement, there is a “sweet spot” that appears to give us the most benefit in terms of the effect it has on our immune system. Both ends of the activity spectrum—being too sedentary or being too active—have been associated with increased susceptibility to infections like upper respiratory tract infections. Moderate activity on the other hand has been shown to provide us with greater resistance to harmful pathogens. This makes the right exercise a great tool to have in your tool belt during flu season.

Moderate activity produces acute, subtle beneficial elevations in our immune system—kind of like a little workout for our immune cells. Just like each session in the gym builds on the next to build more muscle and strength, these “small workouts” work similarly to help make the cells of our immune system stronger and quicker to respond.

Aim to perform 30-45 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity 3-5 times per week. During the winter months, this could be a brisk walk, downhill skiing, snowshoeing, or shoveling done at a level where you can still hold a conversation while doing them. If you hit the gym for some resistance training, work at 60% of your 1RM. You can find more activities here (stick to those activities in the 3.0 – 6.0 METs range).

And while high-intensity, HIIT-style training definitely has other benefits to your overall health, boosting immunity may not be one of them. And exercise can be a trigger for some folks with mast cell issues. If that’s you, be sure to work within a zone that’s comfortable for you and won’t cause a flare of symptoms.

The key is to perform these activities regularly. No weekend warrior stuff here. The sooner you get your body used to moving, the sooner you can move into that sweet spot and reap the immune-boosting benefits.

Keep Your Immune System In Fighting Shape

As always, caring for your body should be your number one priority. Choose to incorporate nourishing foods, hydrating beverages, therapeutic time in nature, and restorative sleep to support and strengthen your body during this flu season.

Bonus pro tip

Herbs and spices are some of the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet. they are packed with potent compounds like antioxidants, polyphenols, and phytochemicals. Regularly including them in your diet can help you reap the benefits while providing support to your immune system. Some common herbs and spices that can impact your immune system include:

  • Black cumin – antibacterial, antifungal, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antioxidant
  • Black pepper – antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antioxidant, enhances the bioavailability of other nutrients
  • Cilantro – antibacterial, antifungal, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antioxidant
  • Cloves – antibacterial, antifungal, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antioxidant
  • Cinnamon – antibacterial, antifungal, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antioxidant, antiviral
  • Fenugreek – anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antioxidant, antiviral
  • Garlic – antibacterial, antifungal, antimicrobial, antiviral
  • Ginger – antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antioxidant, antiviral
  • Holy basil – antibacterial, antifungal, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antitumor, antiviral
  • Onion – antibacterial, antifungal, antimicrobial, antiviral
  • Oregano – antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antioxidant, antiviral
  • Paprika – antifungal, antimicrobial, antioxidant, antiviral
  • Rosemary – anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antitumor
  • Sage – antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antioxidant, antitumor, antiviral
  • Thyme – antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antioxidant, antitumor, antiviral
  • Turmeric – antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antioxidant

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